“I wanted to spend my life choosing flowers for perfect strangers.” The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Grace Gardens, Penn Yan, NY
Flowers were part of my earliest days and inseparable from family life. My parents opened a flower shop in July, 1952. This month, fifty-eight years later, we sold the building that housed our shop, though the floral business closed some years ago.
To commemorate the flowers of my past and mark how flowers remain part of my life, I’m highlighting a handful of books and authors, and a Finger Lakes “secret” garden. First, a book. Here’s an excerpt:
I’m single but I don’t want to be, the woman said.
She watched me work, arranging the white lilac around the roses until the red was no longer visible. I wound sprigs of rosemary–which I had learned at the library could mean commitment as well as remembrance–around the stem like a ribbon. The rosemary was young and supple, and did not break when I tied it in a knot. I added a white ribbon for support and wrapped the whole thing in brown paper.
First emotions of love, true love, and commitment, I said, handing her the flowers.
In a review of the novel The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Paula McLain (author of The Paris Wife and herself a foster child) writes: “I feel it’s only fair to warn you, dear reader, that Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s central character, Victoria Jones, is going to break your heart three ways from Sunday.”
The character of Victoria Jones and her fate drew me to The Language of Flowers, as did the lush California landscape of flowers against which this story is set.
Victoria has lived in more than 30 foster homes, and when she is emancipated at 18, she isn’t ready. It’s difficult to imagine any child emerging intact from our foster care system. I don’t know which was more heartbreaking, to see foster care let down Victoria time after time, or to see the ramifications of this in Victoria’s adult life.
Victoria’s talent with flowers, which may ultimately be her salvation, is another dimension of the novel that intrigued me. Her one kind and loving foster parent, Elizabeth, passed on to Victoria her floral “genius.” Victoria can not only artfully arrange flowers, she has a knack for giving people the particular flowers they need.
I loved this book and plan to read it again.
Vanessa Diffenbaugh cofounded the Camellia Network to support youth transitioning from foster care to independence. The flower camellia means my destiny is in your hands.
There is a companion volume to this novel, A Victorian Flower Dictionary, compiled by Mandy Kirkby. Neither of these books is to be confused with the classic Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers, first published in 1884.
A secret garden
Hidden away in the woods on a hillside overlooking Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes is a stunning collection of over 40,000 day lilies. Grace Rood planted her first lilies in 1957, and now her son oversees Grace’s Garden. We visited the garden in mid July, when the day lilies were at their peak.
In the language of flowers, lily (Lilium) stands for majesty. A white lily stands for purity and sweetness. In Kate Greenaway’s dictionary, a day lily stands for coquetry.
A passionate bouquet could consist of bird of paradise for magnificence, bougainvillea for passion, and lily for majesty.
Doesn’t the secret language of flowers inspire you to make your own bouquet for someone you love?
Some lily names: Serene Madonna; Miss Jessie; Golden Chimes; Angels Unawares; Little Dancing Dress; Little Fat Cat; Buttered Popcorn; Coyote Moon
If you enjoy flowers, check out Rambling in the Garden, and join the “In a Vase on Monday” crowd.
I found this lily-laden tablecloth in a Finger Lakes antique shop. Perfect for a summer picnic.
Our flower shop opening day, July 24, 1956
More flowers to come in my next post.